When it comes to those we love, most of us will do just about anything to build stronger relationships.
From marriage to parenting to friendship, we’re eager to get information and guidance that will strengthen the bonds between us. We read books and advice columns and attend classes. We might even seek professional counseling if we need extra help. And, of course, we ask God to bless our connections.
But there is one enemy to building stronger relationships that might go unnoticed. It’s something we all bring into every relationship. And it can kill intimacy and connectedness even while causing us to feel like we’re making all the right moves.
What is the one bad habit that can keep you from growing stronger relationships? Doing what feels normal.
We all bring with us a set of relationship experiences that form our opinions about how we want to be treated. And what it looks like to love others well. We can trace much of what we learn about love and life back to how things were in our childhood homes. Whether we hold these memories up as bastions of “loving well” or “never in a million years” they influence how we operate – both positively and negatively.
And their influence over us can cause us to frame our adult relationships around what feels normal and right. But here’s the trouble. Just because something feels normal, that doesn’t make it healthy. In fact, the opposite might be true.
When we operate only within our comfort zone of what feels normal, we risk tangling ourselves up in the same unhealthy relationship patterns again and again.
We’re attracted to the familiar. Even when the familiar isn’t healthy.
(Sidebar: I believe this could be why I’m attracted to eating potato chips with sandwiches. It’s just the way things are supposed to be, am I right? Normal but not necessarily healthy. I think you get my point.)
So the one bad habit we must break if we want to build stronger relationships is this: Doing things the same old way just because it feels normal.
Need an example? For me, it was how I handled anger.
Expressing anger was discouraged when I was growing up. In fact, even disagreeing with my parents or other adults elicited frowns and shaking heads. At the same time, my father expressed his volatile temper with shouting and slamming things and driving fast if we happened to be in the car when his anger struck. I learned to believe that anger was something to steer clear of. It either resulted in disapproval or exploded into something frightening and uncontrollable. And I brought this belief with me into my marriage.
The result? My fear of expressing anger made me awful at conflict resolution. I refused to express anger towards my husband even over the most egregious of hurts. I would give in the moment I felt his disapproval or temper rising. I learned the hard way that to build stronger relationships we need to say what’s true even when it hurts. While it felt right and normal at the time to play the part of the peacemaker, my fear and inability to express anger contributed to the loss of my marriage.
How do we break this habit of doing things that feel right but are unhealthy or damaging to our relationships?
By trusting and believing God when He tells us that in Him we are a new creation.
With Christ, we can leave our old unhealthy relationship habits behind.
Ask God to show you what old relationship habits and beliefs you’re carrying around that feel normal but might not be healthy. It could be something big, like the way you think about money or disciplining your children. Or it might be something small, like how you spend your Saturdays or who should wash the dishes after dinner. You’ll know you’ve uncovered it by the amount of resistance you feel about changing it. Even when it’s causing problems in your relationship.
And once God has helped you figure out what old habits you need to change, be willing to try the new ways He shows you. Even if they make you feel uncomfortable or awkward at first.
New isn’t always easy. But the new life we have in Christ can breathe new life into all of our relationships.
Some relationship habits that feel normal and right aren’t healthy. But God can teach us new ways to strengthen the bonds between us.
And the more we practice and trust God to keep us from falling back into our old normal way of doing things, the stronger our relationships will grow.
“Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth!” (Psalm 86:11 NLT)